1628, Storm Season, Death Week, Windsday
Temple of Humakt
The Temple on the High Holy Day of Humakt is a quiet place. Lay members attend, but there are initiates to be sure they do not stray. Unlike other nights, nothing is left to chance or to trust in others. There are few lights, and practice is drill rather than free sparring. It is taken by Rune Lords, who seem to be teaching new techniques to initiates as well as lay members. Berra demonstrates the broadsword to the Hero Cult, in her blank, patient way. There is something terribly Yamia-like about her, but she is a careful teacher, and obviously highly skilled. Either she was holding back lately, or she has somehow learned more from her ordeal.
The names of postures and strokes are different from the way the Orlanthi tell it, and indeed different from regular practice. After the demonstrations, Berra talks of the ten thousand fights against Kargan Tor, and tells the cultists that they are at the beginning of their journey as Humakt, that they must dedicate themselves to honour and to war, and that the sword must be protected for it cuts all things. Her final words are, “Consider the scabbard.” This seems to puzzle some people. Around them, as the lessons end a soft silence falls. Others are also considering, apparently.
Into the silence, Humakt dances. Tall, strong, a god of Air and pride, he moves wildly, hardly contained by the tall stage that represents his mountain home. The room cools, and yet it brightens. Despite the torches there is an effect of snow under a sun, just at the edge of vision.
Berra, short as she is, does not have to crane to watch the dance. The mountain serves to show everything openly. Humakt has never hidden.
Humakt shows honour to the many creatures and beings and gods and people who climb his mountain, but fights most of them. From each he learns a new secret of war.
Finally, he rests. Up from behind his bed rises a god who looks just like him, yet is his opposite.1POWx3 critical or Dance critical only: That god was not shown creeping in, only being there. He was there all along, or Humakt dreamed him. Varanis fails the roll
The god whispers something in his ear and Humakt wakes, and makes a sign of Truth. The god takes off the form of Humakt and is revealed as Eurmal, and Humakt makes to throw him from the mountain, but Eurmal talks fast, a rapid patter of expressions and hand movements that Varanis cannot follow, but that nevertheless lead to a conclusion. ‘I have found a thing. Come with me.’
Together, they leave the room.
Now is the time for hero cults to slip away. Some have private altars, others have allotted spaces within this room or the Altar Hall itself. All worship long-dead warriors, save one.
Eril’s cult is in its usual big room, or little hall. The altar, usually blood red, is the purple of a clot. Lord Raven takes the part of the Priest, while Berra meditates with Amling, another of the cult laity, in preparation for a secret rite later. As Eril, his Wyter is a near-perfect fit, but it is as magic starts to be given up that there is a difference. Lord Raven is less settled than Eril, even when the High Sword was performing the frenetic, wild dance of Young Humakt. 2 Roll Worship and POWx5 and read anything below that you pass. Varanis passes both.
Worship AND POWx5:
The difference is clear when there is a connection of magic. The Wyter is dedicated to two things: the community, and the god. Lord Eril is the god. More than on any other night, he feels separated from the world, part of a thing that cuts forever. Dedication is required to be such a blade, because it is eternal and even at rest its edges are Death. On this night of all nights the concentration required to be the hand and the sword together is clear.
Varanis can feel her magic go to that distant figure, as he quests. Even the act of removing the Young Humakt mask and makeup is a ritual, an undressing and remaking that leaves Humakt changed as he descends to the underworld.
Berra and the man with her can be made out because they are not giving out their magic yet, but holding it within their meditation, concentrating on something together.
After the ritual, the altar gleams white.
Varanis is allowed to the kitchens on her own, usually. Tonight she is accompanied by two warriors, and the rest of the Hero cult, save Berra, Amling, and Lord Raven, leave for the Altar Hall, and the next dance. Lay Members are escorted back to the practice hall, now emptied out considerably.3Note to GM: Where the Lay Members are, the mountain is built over where the altar now is in the other hall – it occupies an analogue of the sacred space.
The lay members are tested on the things they were shown earlier, asked to walk through the steps and motions and movements. There are no Rune Swords here now, but Darl takes the part of the cult leader to be sure that everyone knows what they are doing with a broadsword.4 Roll Broadsword there to see if you took in the lessons. Varanis passes.
During the testing, Humakt reappears, dancing an argument with Eurmal. Darl continues to check everyone knows the ways of the blade, until he is satisfied, and then they can all watch the dance. Eurmal distracts a demon and Humakt breaks a stone and from it draws a shape that flickers and changes. He and Eurmal throw it to each other, hide behind it, climb on it, and puzzle over it. Whatever it is, they plainly do not understand it.
When they are gone, it is Lord Heenith, dressed and painted as Humakt, who in slow motion with a cloth man used as Grandfather Life, tells that part of the ritual to the lay members. It is too great a secret to be shown in full, and elsewhere Humakt is finding what the new power does, for the first time. The Altar Hall will be full of people experiencing the story as Eril shows it, and no doubt sometimes the Swords of Humakt are instructed privately, or are granted visions of knowledge.
Berra returns to the hall with Amling a couple of hours later. There has been a time to rest, although nobody has been particularly talkative. Sparring is allowed: mostly those who do it are trying out what they have just learned. Only half of the hall is well lit, and some are asleep in the darkness, emulating the young Air God.5 Roll Broadsword and Death if you want to take part. Pass broadsword, fail Death
The dancing of the Death of Grandfather Life is repeated, as more of the Temple comes back into the lower hall. Humakt is bloodied now, his hands reddened with what he has done, the palms of his feet splashed with the same colour. He switches from the formal, sanitised movements that are safe for the lay members, as he reaches the end of that tale.
Now he tells of the vows Humakt made, as he beat other weapons into chains and used them to bind his wrists and his tongue. Despite his work, the figure of Eurmal comes with a file and a chisel and steals Death as Humakt rests from that creation. As a dance it is slow and easy, a rest for a mortal channelling the power of the god and showing it to those who follow him. It is also absolutely True. Humakt uses only swords, for he gave up the power of other weapons.6POWx3: Eurmal is Graria, the lay mistress, and one of the high-ranking Swords within the Temple. Fail
Eurmal runs through the crowd, and various beings – Swords and initiates – take gifts from him: daggers, swords, clubs, spears… Humakt challenges each. Some refuse, some stand forth. The god prowls through the halls, chasing down the hidden parts, and this also is absolutely True: while Humakt is the holder of the sword, he gained Death in many forms, sometimes at great cost. Only a few escaped him, and so he is the master of many weapons and of Death in many forms.
There is a meal, not the great feast, but a wilderness meal eaten by all as Humakt rests in his task. As he does so, dawn comes outside. Orlanthi rise to slay Yelm, and Humakt covers his face with his hands, for shame and sorrow.7 Dance, Broadsword, to see how well you do. Special, pass
There are some Yelmalians here, and they stand in for the sun, dying and staggering away before watching from the edges of the room.
Within the Temple a second darkness falls. Humakt severs himself from his brother.8Fail POW x 3
Lord Eril, sheened with sweat, the mask of the warrior painted on him, holds his sword in his right hand and braces it against his left palm, and draws it down from head height to waist height. His arms tremble with the effort, or with exhaustion.
Humakt uses Death as the power of separation, and is family-dead, cut off without having been cut.
Read both Fail and Pass above.
There is a strange feeling that the cutting did kill him. How could a sword not? But what it killed was his youth, and that is why Humakt is not an Air god. He killed what he was, and became a new thing.
In the Lesser Darkness, Humakt kills many enemies, defending Magasta as he calls the rivers to stop their invasion of the land and bring the foul taint of Chaos down to the sea. On the stage, the mountain now represents the Spike, and it has collapsed, and within its ruins Magasta – slightly feathery, but very dexterous – calls waters to him. Humakt kills the void where the spike had been. As Magasta finishes his spell, Humakt jumps through the dead void into the underworld.
In some sense, a man called Eril is now under a model mountain while cloth painted as water ripples above him. This is barely a sense that matters at all. Humakt has descended without dying, and Magasta has learned from him secrets of Death. Magasta’s realm separates the Air from the Earth, and hints at further mysteries.
The descent through the dead void is the last that the lay membership sees of Lord Eril until everything magical is over. Heenith appears from behind the broken mountain, which is now a vast underground cliff, and Humakt goes on a journey. The Sword shows simplified versions of what is happening to Humakt on his way to the Halls of Silence, and when he is confronted by the cloth man, now the clothing of a dancer with a mirror for a face, Humakt regards himself for some time before Daka Fal sends him on a path. Heenith does many things that are hard to make out, all actions of power that it might be dangerous to see, or matters that might be shown on other days. When a silent, shortened judgement is finished, Orlanthi and Sky-god worshippers defeat guardian demons and emerge from the underworld, while the Humakti within the room stay still, bound to their new realm by a net that they hold tightly with both hands.
By now it is mid morning. The Orlanthi and Yelmalians emerge into the courtyard, and there is a break. There will be a feast, but if someone needs to slip away, now is the time. Some do. Others gossip and practice.9Pass Intrigue. Intrigue: The High Sword paused in the sword dance when he slew Grandfather Life, and people are wondering if he did it on purpose. A smoky, scarred version of him helped him, moving in perfect unity. Either Eril’s fingers slipped and great magic kept the ritual on course, or there was a new mystery there.
The feast is at noon. Lay members and initiates and temple servants of unspecified ranks help to put out tables and benches. Seating is according to rank, food geasa, and regimental organisation. Berra’s table is headed by D’Val, who is at the top of a bench, rather than in an individual seat at one end. Varanis is free to sit where she likes, among the main tables, although some have benches or chairs with swords or symbols on, representing those who are away.10Cult Lore (Humakt) Some of the seats represent people who are present, but at different tables. D’Val could sit at several, depending on whether he is eating as a Rune Lord, one who may not eat vegetables, or one who does not eat the flesh of birds. It seems that care takes precedence over rank here, with the seating ensuring there are no accidents. Varanis fails the roll.
The food is plain but plentiful and of good quality. The wine is decent. Berra seems cautiously cheerful, perhaps weighed down by the day and the power of Humakt. She is called to deal with Temple business for the rest of Holy Day.11Insight (Duck): D’Val is worried about Berra. For all that he makes sure that the rest of the table is fine, she has his attention more than he lets on. Varanis fails the roll.
Finally, it is all over. Some of the attendees chatter loudly about what they have seen as they leave, letting the tension out. Others wait thoughtfully until the noise has finished, and then depart. Berra is busy for the rest of the day, and stays at the Temple overnight, not coming back until late on Fireday. Preparation for the lesser holy day that week keeps her busy.
- 1POWx3 critical or Dance critical only: That god was not shown creeping in, only being there. He was there all along, or Humakt dreamed him. Varanis fails the roll
- 2Roll Worship and POWx5 and read anything below that you pass. Varanis passes both.
- 3Note to GM: Where the Lay Members are, the mountain is built over where the altar now is in the other hall – it occupies an analogue of the sacred space.
- 4Roll Broadsword there to see if you took in the lessons. Varanis passes.
- 5Roll Broadsword and Death if you want to take part. Pass broadsword, fail Death
- 6POWx3: Eurmal is Graria, the lay mistress, and one of the high-ranking Swords within the Temple. Fail
- 7Dance, Broadsword, to see how well you do. Special, pass
- 8Fail POW x 3
- 9Pass Intrigue. Intrigue: The High Sword paused in the sword dance when he slew Grandfather Life, and people are wondering if he did it on purpose. A smoky, scarred version of him helped him, moving in perfect unity. Either Eril’s fingers slipped and great magic kept the ritual on course, or there was a new mystery there.
- 10Cult Lore (Humakt) Some of the seats represent people who are present, but at different tables. D’Val could sit at several, depending on whether he is eating as a Rune Lord, one who may not eat vegetables, or one who does not eat the flesh of birds. It seems that care takes precedence over rank here, with the seating ensuring there are no accidents. Varanis fails the roll.
- 11Insight (Duck): D’Val is worried about Berra. For all that he makes sure that the rest of the table is fine, she has his attention more than he lets on. Varanis fails the roll.